I’m not a sailor or a swimmer, but I love being beside the water.
While my husband and our second son gallivant around town, I retreat to a quiet table on a floating dock.
I order a glass of Chardonnay and coconut shrimp and set to scribbling notes on a piece of paper that I shyly requested at the Marina desk.
The sun is high above my umbrella, the day is crystal clear, and the mountain range across the great expanse of Lake Champlain is a sea of waves unto itself.
This is perfect therapy for saying goodbye to a son; better than all those last minute searches at Wal-mart and Home Depot and Bed, Bath & Beyond with the throngs of other parents of college freshmen.
I decide that before we leave town–and our first born–we will take the Lake Champlain Chocolate Factory tour.
A thin, blue dragonfly lands on my table and reminds me of my calling. I fold another piece of paper once, and then again, so that there are 4 boxes into which I can, somewhat privately, collect my emerging thoughts.
When I have filled an entire side of the sheet, I unfold it and flip it to the opposite side, folding it up once more. I ask the waitress for a glass of water. I scoop out some of the ice and drop it into my wine. I am almost buoyant.
And then I hear: “I think we should move here, Dad.”
I look up to see a boy about the age of my second son, 13, standing beside his father who has stepped up to the bar. I recognize the longing in the boy’s voice. I’ve heard in my husband’s voice today as he raves about the Champlain Valley, as if to say the same: “Let’s move here.”
I don’t hear the father’s response, but I sense it in the reflection of his wife’s face as she approaches them. She is beautiful, but sad, with hollowed cheeks. She tries to smile at her husband and she brushes her hand against his cheek while he leans over to kiss his tall son on the forehead. From behind, a small girl with long brown curls wraps her arms around her father’s waist and rests her head against his back.
I wipe tears from my folded paper as this family limps away.
What do you get when you cross extended power outages with PMS and an adolescent?
Answer: Rock bottom in the family version of “Survivor.”
I bet the contestants on that show turn against each other too when the going gets rough. Which is why none of us should take our apocalyptic family meltdown too personally.
Even if I did scream, “Casey, Casey, CASEY!” when my husband ran up the stairs after our teenager.
After he told his father to “Shut up!”
After his father yelled at him to “Knock if off!”
After he punched the water cooler.
After I screamed “NOOOOOOOOO!” at the top of my lungs when he asked me for the zillionth time if he could go to a friend’s house.
What is it about a 13 year old’s brain that makes him persist around the absurd and obvious? Who the heck is supposed to drive him to a friend’s house on wire strewn roads when both his parents are bumping around the kitchen in the dark trying to find the matches to relight the stove to the heat the chili that was prepared in a crockpot and cooked at work where they had electricity?
And what about timing? Don’t kids have any? Is it a good time to ask about a friend’s house when your father just came up from the pond where he had to break through the ice for the fourth day in a row to get water to flush the toilet? Is it a good time to ask after he just announced that all our frozen food on the porch was beginning to defrost?
“WE ARE ON SURVIVOR!” I want to scream, “Get with the program!” (Aren’t we supposed to be able to kick people off this show?)
And what about the audacity of an adolescent in the face of crisis? How can he give us attitude about being asked to bring in some extra wood for the stove? Where does he get off offering his opinion? “There’s enough wood,” he counters, as he drops himself onto the couch to rest while his father and I attempt to wash dishes by candlelight.
Our neighbor Bob shows up at our home right after this family drama runs its course. The void of energy in the house is palpable, and I’m not talking about the electricity.
We are all drained- even our eight-year old who was only a witness, asking, “Mom is there anything I can do to help?” Aidan takes this opportunity to add, “I know it was hard to hear Lloyd ask you that same question over and over after you already said– No–but maybe you could not yell. It’s scary.”
Later gathered in my bed by candlelight, the boys and I decompress the evening while my husband makes another thirty- minute trip to town to pick up the ice that he forgot on his way home from work. The poor-timing of this forgetfulness was the initial tipping point of the whole tragic evening.
Our resident emotional intelligence expert, Aidan, at the tender age of 8, helps us all talk about the feelings we’ve stuffed. He responds to me with trademark compassion. “So you feel sad and angry that Dad chased Lloyd,” he acknowledges.
“Yes,” I say, and then turn toward him to ask,”How did it feel for you?”
“I was disappointed and a little scared,” he says.
“How about you, Lloyd? ” I ask my teenager, hoping he’ll join the conversation. His long body is stretched out opposite me at the foot of my bed while Aidan is in tucked beside me. “I felt surprised,” Lloyd says. “Dad was so fast and loud coming up the stairs.”
We talk a bit more and it’s clear by the tightness in Lloyd’s voice that these days without friends and media has taken its toll on his peer-oriented teen heart. “I can’t go to bed another night at 8:30,” he almost whimpers. We all exhale. It’s been a demanding week.
Aidan takes this lightening of the energy as a sign he can shift our attention. He wants to read a poem from his school collection and wants us to guess the student author. The first one is about war and to my surprise; it’s Lloyd’s.
In a flash I realize just how much is going on inside my thirteen year old son, and with a pang, I wonder just how much I miss.
The night winds down softly with several rounds of poetry guessing as the book is passed from Aidan to Lloyd to me and around again. Tonight’s meltdown on the heels of an ice storm has opened the way for poetry. And everyone is still on the show. Though my husband took so long in town that we began to worry.
After he refills the coolers with ice, he joins us in bed as we begin the next ritual of these long nights without power. Tonight’s game is PIT and there’s a nice release of energy with all that shouting. By the time Aidan is tucked in his own bed, we are all smiling.
Lloyd settles in between his father and me as I pick up where we left off the night before with the novel, Three Cups of Tea. On a typical evening, Lloyd would be in his own room with the door closed, plugged into his Ipod or connecting with friends on FaceBook. But now, he can’t enough of this time together and begs, “Just one more chapter” before his father tucks him into bed.
The wind and the sound of crashing trees makes it hard to sleep that night, and then Survivor begins again at sunrise as the boys get dressed for school by flashlight.
I rummage through the coolers on the porch to put together lunches and Casey heads back to the pond for water. Despite the sweet ending to the evening before, Lloyd displays such a flamboyant sluggishness in response to each request that I am quickly disgusted with him. The morning ends so badly between us that I don’t even ask for a hug goodbye. And I don’t even care.
Until a few moments later. From my kitchen sink where I wash the breakfast dishes in an inch of precious water, I can see my boys waiting for the bus at the bottom of the road and my anger melts.
I remember that today is the opening game of the basketball season for Lloyd. In fact, it’s the first thing he said to me when I woke him up this morning “I don’t think I can remember all the plays,” he told me. And I just rushed him along.
With soapy hands, I run to the door at the last minute to yell down, “Have a good game, Lloyd!” But the bus drowns out my voice.
For a moment, I stand there, holding the door ajar, heart wide open, while my boys pull away. This is a feeling that I know I will get to practice much more before my sons finally bump me– from their show.
A few years ago, our Thanksgiving was completely swiped–the likes of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Only our villian–or should I say, “our hero,” was an unlikely teenage boy.
Here’s the story:
After we got the turkey in the oven that morning, we went for a family walk. Our reluctant teenager even joined us. We circled the pond and tested the ice and watched tiny flakes fall from the sky; then crunched our way home through the as the boys threw snow at each other.
Before leaving for my sister’s for pre-Thanksgiving hors d’oeuvres, we prepared our dinner table, only to discover that we didn’t have eight of anything! Worse of all was the realization that there were only 4 forks left from our silverware collection.
In response to this crisis, the reluctant teenager created a new tradition: setting the table in half blues and half greens (placemats and dishes) with matching silver on one side and a pot-luck assortment on the other.
My husband, a strong Virgo, had to leave the room, but our eight-year old was inspired to contribute an interesting tradition of his own: filling a piñata that he had scored at the second-hand store the day before.
The day was filled with many, many happy moments and a few “mommy dearest” ones–like when I arrived home from sister’s to find that the turkey was done an hour early… while my teenager moved in slow motion to each desperate request for help.
Our youngest shined in this hour of need, asking eagerly, “Is there anything else I can do?” At 8, he was naturally helpful, relishing in any moment where he could outshine his big brother. Plus he had a vested interest in the dinner meal as he had peer arriving to join us, while his brother, dejectedly, did not.
In true adolescent fashion, he was sullen during dinner and dramatically opted out of the post-turkey walk with our guests, plugging himself into his ipod and plopping down on the couch instead. “At least start putting some dishes in the dishwasher,” I called before leaving. I dreaded coming back to that mess, but the sun was getting low in the sky, and it was now or never to enjoy what was left of this day.
Our guests laughed at my suggestion that our teen begin the clean up, promising that we would all tackle it together when we returned. We enjoyed a nice long walk up MacArthur Road and arrived back home as the sun dropped behind the mountain.
When we walked in the door, I gasped, as if our house had been robbed. I looked around, confused, bewildered, concerned even. My teenager was no longer on the couch. He was at the sink. I suspected he jumped up just in time to start loading the dishes when he heard us come up the drive. And yet something was different…
The wood stove was still there in the middle of the room, but everything else… There was absolutely no evidence of our Thanksgiving Party left behind–not in the living room or the dining room or in the sink. In fact, the kitchen was eerily spotless. Not a dish or a crumb, not a pot or a pan. Nothing but the smell of turkey and a single glass of chardonnay.
Beguiled and giddy, we put our coats back on and headed down to our neighbors for the pumpkin pie and the piñata… while continuing to marveling over what was sure to be forever called, The Thanksgiving Miracle.
a child, the age my own, lost her life this spring on the rural highway around the corner from where we just built our first home…
each morning when my son rides the yellow bus to school, he passes the spot where eight-year old Kayla was killed…
they played basketball together in the league this past winter…
the fragility of life is so palpable in the face of tragedy that it surprises me how permanent it can feel most of the time…
each day i think about how our lives would be changed if we lost a child…
each time i get into the car, my mind is on that beautiful field beside which those two cars collided on a perfectly clear Monday afternoon…
i slow down on the highway when i pass there, in reverence for what was lost …
“why do people leave flowers?” my sons ask after we bring a handful of daisies and pussy willows…
“i don’t know really, “ i tell them “it’s kind of an unspoken tradition… honoring the person who died...”
i answer as much for them as for myself….
perhaps we leave flowers on the road to create beauty out of anguish, to make holy that place where suffering took place…
each day another plant or cross or bouquet appears; this morning a pink plastic flamingo… maybe that little girl loved flamingos… pink was probably her favorite color
i wish i could pour flowers from my heart onto that hill, creating a shrine to grief…
i think about route 9… it’s such an every day part of our lives… we spend so much time driving on it without the awareness that in just one moment, a truck could cross the road and make that trip to town anything but mundane…
a young woman from the college lost her life to it this winter on Hogback; and the year before, a gracious friend lost her life to its curves and beauty near the Adam’s Crossroads; the driver of the truck that killed young Kayla also lost his life, at the age of 24
perhaps I’m more consumed than others to death by automobile- given that as a child i lost my grandmother in that way…
she was only in her fifties when she and her three best friends were killed on a bridge outside Philadelphia… they were on their way to a golf match… four gals out for the day… the truck driver who smashed into them never saw their broken down car that his sixteen wheeler drove the length of a football field across the great expanse of that bridge, finally landing on top for them…
as truck drivers surprisingly can do, he walked away unhurt… I’ll never forget his name “Steven Nosel, age 32” … i read it in the newspaper over and over again…
he had gotten lost that day outside the city and hadn’t meant to be on that bridge… he must be in his sixties now
I’ve always wondered and worried how he survived that afternoon, the bright sun blinding his view… rocking my world forever…